GSSM Students Wrap Up Summer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hartsville, SC – Four seniors from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics (GSSM) recently spent a month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) enrolled in the 2017 MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute (BWSI).

The opportunity to participate in BWSI was made possible by GSSM’s Summer Research Program for Research Interns (SPRI), which allows students to participate in real-world research projects at university and corporate R&D labs throughout South Carolina, the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Griffin Eslinger, son of Sandy and David Eslinger of Dorchester County; Michael F. Gresko, son of Cindy and Michael Gresko of Greenwood County; James Johnson, son of Kimberly and Patrick Johnson of Berkeley County; and Jaden Tennis, daughter of Glenda and Paul Tennis of York County were among 98 students selected from schools around the nation to participate in the BWSI program.

The students worked on hands-on projects, took online courses, and attended lectures presented by leading researchers from MIT, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They were placed into one of three courses: Autonomous Racecar Grand Prix, Autonomous Air Vehicle Racing, or Cog*Works: Build your own Cognitive Assistant.

“The BWSI program gave our students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of computer science and work on projects with real-world applications,” said Randy LaCross, VP for Outreach & Research. “We’re excited to develop our partnership with MIT and to increase opportunities like this one for other students in South Carolina.”

Grand Prix students programmed miniature racecars to autonomously navigate complex racetracks. For the air vehicle task, students programmed quadrotor drones to independently fly through a racecourse, while those working with artificial intelligence used a program called Cog*Works to create virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Eslinger, Gresko, and Johnson participated in the Grand Prix and Tennis participated in Cog*Works.

“It was a great experience,” said Johnson. “I got to investigate autonomy on a much deeper level on the racecars.”

Earlier this month, on August 6, BWSI held their final competition and closing ceremony. Teams raced their autonomous vehicles through a 75-square-inch serpentine pathway modeled after a Grand Prix race track. In an adjacent area, drones faced the challenge of flying through elevated hoops and following tracks marked on the floor. Students in the virtual assistant course gave demonstrations of their software.

Gresko’s team won the autonomous vehicle "Follow the Leader" competition and Tennis’ team won first place in the Cog*Works program.

“This year, we had a fantastic group of students: talented, very intelligent, and all with a passion for learning,” said John Vivilecchia, the program manager of BWSI. “We were very excited to see what they had accomplished over the course of the BWSI online and summer program at our final competition event. It was an exciting day of races and technology demonstrations, culminating in an awards ceremony. These students received a transformational experience that they will be sure to remember for many years to come.”